London Interdisciplinary School ©2019

Palm Oil in Supply Chains

300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour to satisfy the growing demand for palm oil. It is one of the worst sources of greenhouse gases and a major habitat destroyer. Palm oil typically changes hands at least three times before reaching manufacturers.

Design a tool which enables food companies to trace their orders and ensure the integrity of their supply chain.

01. Functional Programming

In computer science, functional programming is a programming paradigm - one style of building the structure and elements of computer programs. One popular functional programming language is JavaScript.

Functional programming is used in situations where we have to perform lots of different operations on the same set of data. It has long been popular in academia, with few industrial applications. However, we’re now starting to see functional programming applied by a range of companies, in areas including aerospace systems, hardware design, and web programming.

02. Blockchain

Establishing and maintaining the traceability of palm oil across the supply chain is highly complex due to a multitude of factors – complex value chains with multiple middlemen, regulatory challenges, lack of consumer awareness, and so on.

Blockchain may provide a technology-based intervention that brings transparency to the entire palm oil sector and triggers the move towards a sustainable palm oil market. If we take advantage of blockchain technology, we may be able to create a low-cost, trustworthy traceability mechanism.

03. User Centered Design

User-centred design (UCD) is, as the name suggests, a process in which designers focus on the users and their needs in each phase of the design process. It’s not enough to simply design something - to achieve real impact in the world, you need to make sure people use it.

Moreover, by focussing on all users of a product, designers can recognise the diversity of cultures and human values through user centred design - a step in the right direction towards creating sustainable businesses.

04. User Experience

Put simply, user experience is how you feel about every interaction you have with what’s in front of you in the moment you’re using it. This involves concepts like usability, accessibility, and desirability, amongst others.

This is important, as those producing palm oil in developing countries not only have to (a) actually use the tool, but (B) use that tool correctly.

05. Supply Chains

Definitively confirming that a given product contains palm oil from a specific, single plantation is impossible unless the palm oil is certified at every step along the supply chain.

The palm oil supply chain is a complicated social system, the complexity of which hinders efforts to combat other palm oil-related problems, like deforestation. This problem is significant, as the vast majority (90%) of palm oil is non-certified and non-traceable along the entire supply chain.

06. Systems Architecture

Systems architecture refers to the set of conventions, rules, and standards employed in a computer system’s technical framework. An architecture description is a formal description and representation of a system, organised in such a way as to support reasoning about the structures and behaviours of the system.

Blockchain applications use a radically different systems architecture to typical applications. Knowing the difference, and how to apply principles across both, is helpful when considering user-centred design and user experience.

07. KPIs

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a type of performance measurement. To know whether your product or intervention is successful, you need to know (a) in what way you want to be successful, and (b) what the best way is to measure that sort of success. The science of this is bundled into a format known as KPIs.

In this way, KPIs provide a means by which to evaluate sustainable supply chain management for palm oil production.

08. Prioritisation

When doing anything, e.g. building a product, effective prioritisation is crucial. However, doing this in a team can be challenging. It is important to be explicit in defining your goals - and learning how to prioritise them is a hard skill.

Palm oil is a highly complex problem and tackling it could, at times, feel overwhelming. Prioritisation skills are vital in such instances, and allow you to play your time in a manner that not only creates value, but creates the right value.

09. Leadership Techniques

Often, a distinction is made between good management and good leadership. The latter can come in many shapes and sizes - often from entirely unexpected quarters.

The development of alternative business models for palm oil production may not be popular, and require strong leadership skills to implement. Sustainability leadership is required not only from local communities, but from international organisations and industry.

10. Brainstorming Techniques

Many people think that brainstorming is standing in front of a whiteboard whilst working with a group. However, research in organisational psychology has discovered many nuances to brainstorming - determining that it’s very much a skill which can and should be learnt.

Examining the problem of palm oil is by no means a linear process. In such cases, creative ideation techniques (namely, brainstorming) are immensely valuable in realising and building upon different ideas.

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